Britta Heer considers it a big mistake to sweep conflicts with colleagues under the table. It is better to set up processes to solve such conflicts, she writes in her guest article.
Today was another day like that: in the very first call in the morning we argued with our colleagues from sales about capacities, at noon we didn’t get any support for an important project from our HR colleagues, then we couldn’t reach an agreement on strategic issues with the boss, in the evening in a budget dispute between PR and marketing and at the end of the day the feeling of having achieved little.
Conflict-laden days like these are part of normal working life. We all know that when people meet, different points of view, personal characteristics, interests and expectations play a role. This is especially true in a rapidly changing and increasingly complex working world. If you add different languages and cultures, it can get even more complicated. Not to mention the confusing constellations caused by the collaboration of people, some of whom work remotely, with teams sitting together in the office. Conflicts are therefore almost inherent in the system.
It is all the more astonishing that most German companies do little to actively manage conflicts. However, this negligence costs companies a lot of money, because unresolved disputes can lead to poor work results, increase sickness rates and employee turnover.
As early as 2009, the auditing company KPMG drew attention to the fact that, depending on the consequences of unresolved conflicts, delayed or failed projects can result in annual costs of between EUR 50,000 and EUR 500,000.* The current The annual costs incurred due to a lack of conflict management are likely to be a lot higher today due to inflation alone.
One reason for neglecting this topic is certainly that the causality of conflict costs is difficult to verify. In addition, disputes are usually perceived as unpleasant and want to be forgotten quickly. For many, a conscious reappraisal of conflicts belongs more in couples therapy or in the field of peace research.
Britta Heer is Executive Vice President Client Experience at Weber Shandwick Germany. She advises global companies and brands on PR and digital marketing.
It is not that complicated to establish good conflict management in companies. This requires suitable processes and methods as well as managers trained in this area – depending on the size and complexity of the company, at least one conflict manager is recommended per organizational unit, who acts as a contact person.
A pragmatic and effective approach is a method that follows the principle of “making a clean sweep”, i.e. putting any type of conflict, whether it is subliminal or open, on the table and turning it into constructive solutions. This is achieved through a process established in the company that explicitly regulates the handling of disputes – regardless of the nature of the dispute. The top rule here is that a conflict is always tried to be solved independently by the opponents – without external help – by the parties entering into a direct exchange with each other. There is a set program for this, which, ideally, successfully overcomes a conflict in just a few steps.
If that doesn’t work, the opponents can contact a conflict manager. This:r decides with which instruments the dispute can be solved – by means of a conversation moderated by a conflict manager:in or a sequence of mediation sessions. Both solution methods can be implemented by trained managers. If the executives have concerns about their partiality (or if there are capacity bottlenecks), external moderators or mediators can help. (The author conceived the processes and methods described here conceptually at her last professional station and has already successfully applied parts of them. She is still waiting for an opportunity to roll out this program sustainably.)
A prerequisite for successful conflict management is an open corporate culture in which people trust each other and are therefore willing to talk about conflicts. Executives are at the helm here: it is in their hands to encourage healthy, solution-oriented interactions with one another in their teams.
In order for this to succeed, every manager should first look at themselves: If they are afraid of conflict, what could be the reason – and how can they change it? How can they motivate their own environment to approach conflicts in a solution-oriented manner? A first step would be to encourage colleagues to talk to people, not about them. A good way is also to depersonalize conflicts: If you understand that in the work environment it is often more about the roles than the people, it is immensely relaxing. In this way, the colleagues can still discuss an evaluation out loud in the morning in the controlling office and later have a peaceful lunch together.
Anyone who wants to take things to the extreme as a company speaks of “Let’s celebrate conflicts”. This can either be a motto as a distant vision of the future or is actually already the result of a positive conflict culture in the best sense. The thinking behind it is important: freeing the conflict from its reputation as an annoying troublemaker and seeing in it the potential for better cooperation.
The Mission Female business network, founded by Frederike Probert, is actively committed to more female power in business, society, media, culture, sports and politics. It unites successful women across all industries with the aim of making further professional progress together.